A JOURNAL on DOUBT

* PART THREE *

Go back to: Prefaces


ENTRY TOPICS in PART THREE

1. So Many Alternatives

13. Reinventing Christianity

25. The Wrongness of Hernan Cortes

2. Unable to Disbelieve

14. Enslavement to Sin

26. Great Thinkers Who Believe

3. Montaigne on the Problem of Disagreement

15. Universal Salvation

27. Urgency About Choosing

4. Another Book of Apologetics

16. An Apologist for the Bible

28. No Peace in Skepticism

5. Deeper Marriage Difficulties

17. Prayer Habits

29. The Habit of Believing

6. Prayer and Pain

18. Relating to God

30. Calvinism and Election

7. Montaigne and Certainty

19. The Egotism Behind Doubt

31. The Nonsense of the Doctrine of Election

8. The Problem of Hell

20. Close to Renouncing Christianity

32. The Character of God

9. Weak Apologetics

21. The Wrath of God

33. Why Does Belief Continue?

10. Being Pursued by God

22. Ancient Questions: Those Who Have Never Heard of Jesus and Universalism

34. The Motives Behind Believing

11. The Difficulties of Original Sin

23. Leaving Salvation to God

 

12. Plausible Explanations

24. Hernan Cortes, Immorality, and Disagreement

 

 

1. So Many Alternatives

I'VE NOTICED THAT I doubt Christianity less because the Bible seems mythological and inconsistent, or because it seems ludicrous to think of Christ as anything more than a man, and more because knowledge doesn't seem possible. This is the problem of epistemology. And adding to my uneasiness is the awareness that even if I discover how man can know some propositions with certainty, I'll still face the long climb of proving Christianity with the available evidence. Unless something pops up, that evidence seems no more persuasive than the evidence for countless other religions and philosophies. Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, atheism, deism, relativism -- they've all begun to look equally verifiable and refutable. How can I choose between them, even if I find proof that man can know something metaphysical?

In spite of how the alternatives appear, I've got to admit that I'm still I'm mostly looking for a way to believe Christianity. Strange as it seems, and though I don't know why, I'm not desperately trying to prove or disprove any other religion or philosophy. I've insisted that I want to assent to the truth, but is this the case in fact? My goal actually appears to be to believe the one religion I want to be true, Christianity, despite all the evidence making Christianity so deeply suspect.

In this journal, nonetheless, I've advanced so many arguments against the faith I want that I wonder how I'll ever finally gain confidence in Christianity. In my mind, this religion has too many crevasses to cross. I'm beginning to despair of my desire to believe in Christ, though I don't know yet how to quell it completely. It's strange and distressing to feel as though that desire had a life of its own inside me. It's almost perverse that my interest in demonstrating Christianity won't wither despite all my doubts.

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2. Unable to Disbelieve

I MIGHT JUST AS WELL KEEP KNOCKING on this door, which seems shut tight to me. I don't want to pound on it any longer, but I can't walk away. Every time I try, I take only a step or two, stop, sigh, and feel that I must turn back. Surely someone, perhaps even God, will answer at any moment. Discarding Christianity and every other creed won't help; I'm a person who needs to have standards to live by, ready to govern my actions, whether I'm able or willing to meet the standards or not. Behind this door is truth. I urgently and fearfully long to own its secrets (I'm confident they're there, though I have no proof). I've got to keep knocking and pounding, though its bewildering and wearying. Is anyone else enduring this misery?

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3. Montaigne on the Problem of Disagreement

A FEW SENTENCES OF MONTAIGNE'S have convinced me that man can know nothing for certain. In the essay An Apology for Raymond Sebond, which I skimmed through recently, Montaigne demonstrates with one argument after another that man is presumptuously overconfident in his mind. At one point, he lays out the argument that persuades me that man can know nothing -- at bottom the argument from disagreement:

If the mind were capable or firm enough to grasp the truth by its own means, those means being common to all men, this truth would be bandied about from hand to hand, from one man to another; and at least there would be one thing in the world out of all there are that would be believed by all men with universal consent. But this fact, that no proposition can be seen which is not debated and controverted among us, or which may not be, well show us that our natural judgement does not grasp very clearly what it grasps; for my judgment cannot make my companion's judgement accept it, which is a sign that I have grasped it by some other means than by a natural power that is in me and in all men.

That human beings everywhere disagree (and, notoriously, even within Christianity) is an idea I contend is self-evident and incontestable. (It isn't remotely possible that I've misunderstood everyone and detected disagreement where agreement flourishes, though I'll admit there's no way to prove this contention.) Manifestly, almost as many ideas, doctrines, theories, hypotheses, and creeds have been advanced and accepted as there are people who have lived and are living -- an astronomically large, virtually infinite, number.

There are three credible explanations for rampant disagreement: 1) one group of believers who agree on everything crucial (perhaps just one person) knows the truth, and every other group is wrong; 2) every group is wrong; or 3) each group is slightly right and mostly wrong. If one group is right, all other people, who invariably disagree with that group, are wrong. No one outside the group knows the truth. (Indisputably, the Christian creeds and most Christians take this position.) Now, if most men -- in fact a huge majority of men, no matter what creed I might, for the sake of argument, suppose true -- don't know the truth, there's a reason they don't know it. Whatever the reason is -- whatever, whether it's ignorance, hatred toward God, desire to sin and rebel, stupidity, insanity, folly -- then because I'm a human being like those in error, I must admit that I'm subject to the same forces causing unbelievers to overlook, suppress, deny, or miss the truth. (The haughty belief that all unbelievers are rebelling doesn't outflank this argument; because every Christian is human, he might be in rebellion, just as unbelievers are.)

Is this an inconsequential and minor difficulty? I maintain that it's crucial. If believers are subject to the forces leading a vast majority of people astray, how can a believer ever know for sure he's restrained or quelled those forces? Here are all these people, millions upon billions, disagreeing with me and each other; they even have (if Christianity is truth) the unbelievably foolhardy audacity to presume they know the truth and that Christians don't. Any explanation for their belief in innumerable falsehoods calls into question my ability to know the truth. For how can a Christian ever know he's overpowered the stupidity or rebellion every unbeliever failed to overpower because of ignorance, arrogance, hate -- whatever?

Do Christians see with an inner light, the illumination of the Holy Spirit of the Trinity, who confirms the truthfulness of faith in Christ? This assertion gets no one any closer to proof: billions of unbelievers through the ages, mystics, prophets, and commoners, have followed their inner light to false faith. Appealing to scriptures helps no one prove his case either: other people feel just as assured as Christians that other books are divine. Pointing to Christ's incarnation proves nothing: other people believe without the slightest hesitation or fear -- yes, even with a willingness to die for their beliefs -- in other prophets or supernatural agents. Admiring Christianity's goodness doesn't help: countless others believe just as firmly as we Christians that their doctrines display the true goodness of God.

This argument from human disagreement proves man can know nothing for certain. If Christians are willing -- as we must be to accept our present creeds -- to repudiate the beliefs and opinions of billions of non-Christians, we reveal our own condition to ourselves. That condition is this: we Christians are pushed and pulled to our beliefs (because we are as human as non-Christians) by the same stupidities, follies, ignorance, or rebellion that supposedly pushed and pulled the non-Christians into falsehood. Combined with the overwhelming evidence of history, Christian creeds also imply that many, many more men in the history of the race have succumbed to their stupidity or rebellion than ever have conquered them.

Despite such obvious difficulties, Christians want to believe with all their hearts that they're above such forces, the very forces the non-Christian believes the Christian has succumbed to or been deceived by. Though we are as human as non-Christians, we sincerely, brazenly, and proudly believe that we are free from the mental, spiritual, and psychological influences that have destroyed everyone else (in Christianity, remember, the unbeliever is destroyed). How can we be so arrogant!? How can we be so proud?! How can we be so certain of our beliefs in the face of such a record?! How can we believe in a God who allows such ignorance, folly, rebellion, and falsehood to spread and then condemns those who don't assent to the truth? The most important question is rendered unanswerable: how will anyone know that he knows and believes the truth?

We Christians shouldn't be even slightly confident that we know the truth. Why? Because we have quite openly maintained that billions of other human beings haven't and won't master the causes of falsehood and error and yet have felt and will feel just as sure as we do that they're right. These arguments frighten me. Christians believe God will punish every unbeliever! That's Christian doctrine. Will we Christians be stunned and horrified when we discover that we, too, like so many others, were mistaken about God? Will we beg for mercy and yet be burned forever?

Because of the "natural judgement" of men, this judgement that can't find a truth to be "bandied about" from one man to another, I'm terrified I don't and won't ever know the truth to save me.

Can I believe in a faith that can't be proved -- as this argument alone appears to demonstrate -- and risk that I will miss the truth, my salvation, and the salvation of the world?

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4. Another Book of Apologetics

THOUGH I WAS BADLY DISAPPOINTED by Paul Little's book, I'm still holding out hope that some book will whip my skepticism. I bought another one last night -- Reason Enough, by Clark Pinnock. The blurbs on the covers and the introduction and conclusion show it takes the position that though Christianity isn't provable, several good arguments, taken jointly, make a strong case for faith. We shall see, shan't we? Reading the blurbs and skimming the introduction and conclusion of Know Why You Believe didn't tell me much about Paul Little's book. The publishers made it sound like Little had the answers to all my skepticism, though he didn't. His book caused me more doubts. I'm going to keep hoping, though. Something keeps coaxing me to think Christianity through one more time.

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5. Deeper Marriage Difficulties

THINGS ARE GOING FROM BAD TO WORSE in my marriage and our bookstore. Everybody at church is praying so much about me that I feel rather ashamed I have none of the confidence in prayer and in God they smugly flaunt. Gerry's been counseling me for a couple of months that I should look for the lesson God's teaching me with these sufferings. But I still can't imagine that God would try to teach me anything by these appalling means -- divorce, a broken family, emotional collapse, bankruptcy. I can't force it to make sense that God's breaking apart a family and my life in order to change my thoughts and behavior. I'd like to believe it, if it's true; but I can't mix it with enough sugar to get it down my throat. I've decided to stay away from prayer and sham hopes. I'm committed to Cheryl and will let her begin divorce proceedings if she wants. God, for his part, doesn't seem to be planning a grand miracle to save our marriage. He's letting her and me decide whether and how to keep our family together on our own.

It's tempting to act as though I were a secure Christian to get Cheryl to do what I want -- stay married to me. I can imagine myself arguing with her that divorce is wrong. "We know it's wrong because the Bible is the Word of God," I'd say. She maintains she's still a Bible-believing Christian, after all. (That's what I call myself too.) But, if she challenged me, I know I couldn't think of a single persuasive reason for her to admit that she should do what the Bible says. In too many conversations, she's listened to me angrily dispute Christianity and bitingly complain about my uncertainties and everyone's feeble apologetics for her to have any assurance that I know what anyone should do. I've lost all credibility, even with myself, because of my inviolable skepticism. Though I'm tempted to lie to get my way, I can't honestly give up my doubts, because I can't satisfactorily demonstrate the truth of the faith whose moral standards I'd like to see Cheryl obey.

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6. Prayer and Pain

THE STEADY FAILURE OF THE BOOKSTORE is worrisome and frustrating, but at least it isn't making the truth any harder to find. Christianity gives me no comfort in, no solutions to, and no consolations for the mess we've gotten ourselves into with the store. Why would God answer a prayer to save my bookstore from ruin, but condemn millions upon millions of people to starvation and disease and political oppression and poverty so horrible that I can't even imagine their horror? It makes little sense that he would. So there's no need to pray, just as there's also no need to reject Christianity just because I happen to be heading for bankruptcy.

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7. Montaigne and Certainty

FROM MONTAIGNE, WE SHOULD LEARN that no one will ever be able to be certain that his beliefs about truth will save him from any hell that might exist. Since universal agreement doesn't exist -- no truth "bandied about ... from one man to another" -- no single person can prove he's exercised his natural human judgement better than those disagreeing with him, no matter what he believes. Each person can only tenuously and helplessly hope that God won't condemn him if he finds out at the Judgement Seat that he's wrong. As each person hopes for himself, shouldn't he also hope for others, even the heretic, the infidel, the atheist, and the enemy, who reject Christianity by holding other doctrines true, doctrines that make as much sense to them as ours do to us? Shouldn't he hope that God will somehow see fit to save them from the same pit of darkness and agony we fear, even though they might never come to faith in Christ -- which we consider necessary, but which might, and the probability is will, be found false? Don't Montaigne's ideas change how we think about our faith? Don't they make it more clear that Christianity can't be the one and only truth because no one can be certain of it?

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8. The Problem of Hell

ONE CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE plays a role in every doubt I suffer -- hell. Yes, there's a lot of disagreement. Yes, there does seem no possibility of certainty in the Christian faith or any other creed. Yes, the stories about Jesus of Nazareth do seem pretty far-fetched. But the reason these ideas are so damning to Christianity is that it's a religion with a great deal at stake. Without the doctrine of hell, would it matter so direly that people can't be sure their faiths are true? Would it matter so direly that they couldn't accept the stories about Jesus as historical? Would it matter that human beings disagree about everything? Because of the Christian hell, everyone's risking, whether he appreciates the magnitude of the risk or not, a great deal with his choice of faith.

Because of the Christian doctrine of eternal punishment, choosing faith is like searching for an antidote to a chemical that's poisoned the whole world. Everyone has an unknown amount of time to save himself. Hucksters everywhere are hawking hundreds of antidotes. But all save one antidote is poisonous. (Religions with doctrines of eternal punishment are similar. The Christian theologians, for example, tell everyone that Islam is one of thousands of poisons. On the contrary, of course, the Islamic theologians tell the world not to be deceived, because Christianity is only, in fact, another poison.) One chemical, the truth, is the antidote. But which one is it?

Should I gamble that Christianity's the antidote? If I do, I'll take an enormously dangerous risk with the gamble, because millions believe Christianity isn't an antidote, but a poison. It doesn't seem wise to gamble at all, does it? With hell at stake? Shouldn't I be sure? I'm poisoned; I want to be saved. But should I risk poisoning myself again?

Though I ought to wait until I've found the true antidote, there's no way to determine to a certainty which of the elixirs I have to choose from (assuming the antidote is among the choices, which also can't be proved) is the antidote other than by conducting an experiment. Have someone drink each elixir and see what happens. That's been tried. People have been trying different concoctions for millennia. (No one obviously thinks he's "trying" anything; he's certain of the truth of his creed -- that is, certain that his chemical is an antidote -- even though people trust to thousands of different creeds.) Not one person, however, has returned from death to tell any of us what happened! Did the chemicals all these people try, Christians and Muslims and Jews and deists, save them or not? No one yet knows. In the after-life, the results of the experiments are in, I assume; but no Office of Salvation in God's Department of Human Affairs has sent us a copy of the report on the results (who's in hell and who isn't, or whether hell exists at all).

Though I'm making light of the problem, it's a terrible condition to be in? Would God put us in such a predicament, just the predicament Christianity maintains God has put us all in? Because of the doctrine of hell, I've begun to question whether God, if he does exist and is good -- and I find it very plausible that he exists and critical that he's good -- would be so cruel and unfair. It doesn't seem so, which means that Christianity doesn't seem true.

But that's the key word -- seem. I doubt Christianity because of the way things seem to me. It seems true, I suppose, to most Christians that God is going to condemn those unable or unwilling to believe in Christ his son as Savior and Lord. Or, perhaps, it seems true to many Christians that all non-Christians have suppressed their knowledge of God to continue in sin and in enmity to God, in order to live evil lives in slavery to their lusts and passions. Neither of these statements seems true to me. They seem indefensible by any logic. Hence, Christianity doesn't seem true. In my opinion, God, if he's God, a good and just God, wouldn't do this. It's still frightening, nonetheless, to realize that I believe this and have come so close to rejecting Christianity only because of what seems true. Should the way things seem be enough for me to risk not taking the antidote of Christianity?

Each person has trusted his life to an elixir. Is it an antidote? Will it kill him or save him? I know Christians believe with all their hearts that the chemical they've swallowed is the antidote and that every other chemical is poison. But their belief is based only on what seems true! Disturbingly to those desperately searching for the antidote, what has seemed true to people has induced them to take countless elixirs!

What should I believe, O God? Show me, tell me, instruct me, fill me with knowledge and desire -- please. I beg you to guide me to the truth. Whatever is true I want to believe true, O God. I want to drink the antidote (without considering now whether there might be more than one or considering whether I might not be poisoned at all) that will save me. I've swallowed Christianity, but I haven't died and met my Maker yet. I still have time to find the real antidote. So, please, reveal it to me. What should I do? What should I believe?

Christianity, O God, doesn't make much sense to me because it presumes that you're threatening people with a hell none of us can be sure we will escape. Should I then reject it?!

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9. Weak Apologetics

THINGS WENT QUICKLY SOUR with Clark Pinnock. They did go well in the opening pages: he theorized that if you surround Christianity with arguments, none of which proves it, but all of which point to it, a good case can be made for it. I agree with the approach mostly because it doesn't bother with trying to prove the faith.

But then the book ran afoul. Pinnock's first argument to surround Christianity, "The Pragmatic Basis For Faith," is nothing but wishful thinking, which even Pinnock himself admits and feebly tries to rationalize. Because human beings have a desire for meaning in their lives, argues Pinnock, theism is more probable than atheism. Why? Because only theism satisfies the desire for meaning.

After making the argument, Pinnock acknowledges that it could be called wishful thinking. His defense against the charge is unconscionably weak. First, he simply says, quoting C.S. Lewis, "If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world, can satisfy, the most probable explanation was that I was made for another world." That isn't probable at all. Countless desires, good and evil, are left unsatisfied in this world and have no promise of satisfaction in another. Besides, who's to judge which desires are the ones that deserve fulfillment? If some nut desires Allah, does that mean his desire points to the truth of his belief in Allah? Nonsense!

Second, even if it's more probable that unfulfilled desires point to theism, what does that assertion demonstrate about Christianity? Nothing. Don't countless religions and sects and cults and philosophies all compete with promises of fulfilled desires for meaning?

A page later, Pinnock argues that since this desire for meaning might be wishful thinking, the desire to deny it might also be atheistic wishful thinking, and "the objections cancel each other out." True, but how do cancelled objections build confidence in Christianity? Which faith should I choose, if both theism and atheism are equally wishful? These arguments leave me with the same problem I started with -- too many competing religions disagreed on, and too many of them proved by the same arguments.

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10. Being Pursued by God

I CAN'T SUPPRESS THE NAGGING feeling that God's pursuing me. After all, I dispute the doctrines of traditional Christianity from a distinctly Christian viewpoint. Don't I always talk of God's goodness and justice? Don't I always think of him as being fair and merciful? Am I not always worrying about hell and who's going to wind up in it? Where did I get these ideas other than from the Christian teachings I was raised with and am surrounded by in my church? How do I know that God is just or fair or good, or that he'll be good in any manner I consider good? For that matter, what are justice and fairness and goodness? Aren't my definitions of the just and good mostly Christian? And, though I don't often doubt God's existence, is there any good reason to be assured, without proof, that he exists? Like a convinced Christian, I find that even my doubts affirm a great and good God, who expects us to be moral and threatens punishment.

It seems clear that I decided to doubt Christianity after crediting it and holding to the standards of goodness and righteousness taught in a book believed to be God's one true revelation. Long ago, I believed that God must be good and loving, the source of Love. Ever since, I've been bludgeoning the doctrines of Christianity with my ideas about God's love and goodness derived from Christian teachings. I wave God's attributes in front of Christian doctrines, as if I, and not Christianity, discovered God's attributes, discovered exactly what God is like -- as if I drank from some mystical spring no Christian has ever tapped.

My understanding of God, it's hard to admit, comes from the Bible. It's also distinctly displeasing to realize that though I'm tempted to discard Christianity, I don't want to discard the portrait of God Christianity alone has painted for me.

The Trinity, even as I doubt that he's God ever more earnestly and persistently, seems more intensely to force himself upon me. He seems to be pursuing me by getting me to question Christianity with the attributes Christianity has taught me he has. But do I really know him from this religion? I'm simply not sure, though I'm behaving as though I were.

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11. The Difficulties of Original Sin

ONE DOCTRINE OF THE CHURCH has begun to trouble me intensely, and it's surprising, because it's so well regarded: original sin. This doctrine is called by different names; in the theology of the Reformed Church I attend, it's called "total depravity." The doctrine, by any name, has been taught by almost every sect of Christianity throughout the world and in all eras. What it means -- of this I'm reasonably confident -- is that everyone is incapable of submitting to God and saving himself because he's thoroughly tainted and enslaved to sinfulness, a passion for sinning. Sinfulness has completely engulfed every soul, even from conception; everyone is wholly incapable of choosing to do right and not to sin. Without God transforming each person by freeing him from sinfulness, he will always choose to sin (though how this can be called "choice" is beyond me). All people will long to sin, be unable to fight off the longing, and never succeed in avoiding sin. And this sinfulness (Christians call it "Sin" with a capital S) has perverted every part of our minds, bodies, hearts, and souls. Nothing within and without us falls outside the absolute sway of Sin. All are slaves to it. No one can do anything -- without the intervention of God -- to disobey the call and the orders of Sin.

Furthermore, and outrageously, the doctrine even teaches that no one can choose the forgiveness of sins through the blood of Christ to save himself from damnation, or to have God's Spirit dwell in his soul to give him the power to defeat sinfulness and be free of its enslavement.

Is this doctrine true? It's supposedly a fundamental Christian doctrine; it stands behind the teaching that only Jesus Christ can save us from our sins and from sinfulness. No one can do anything to save himself!! What so deeply troubles me is what must be true -- because logic insists on it -- if original sin is true: that God condemns people for sins they were unable not to commit. Once again, it's not the offer of salvation, heaven, or grace through Jesus Christ that causes me to doubt Christianity so agonizingly as the threat of eternal punishment, which can't be evaded without a correct and assured faith in Christ as Savior.

Why would God intend to punish men unable not to sin? The doctrine holds that intention up as truth. All men, unless they receive his mercy, which they're unable to receive, will be condemned to eternity in hell. Is this the Loving Father with his eye on the sparrow? This same Father who counts the hairs on my head, yours, and every pagan's, would've or will see that we're eternally tortured for doing what we couldn't not do. I couldn't, before I became a Christian, choose against sinning. Sin was my master. I never chose, however, to be enslaved to sin. I was enslaved to it from conception. God created me enslaved to it (whether directly or indirectly makes no difference, because God, according to Christian doctrine, is the ultimate and sovereign author of all things) -- it was original in me. And yet, Christianity maintains, God would've punished me -- and will punish every unconverted soul -- for the sins I had to commit and for disbelieving in the forgiveness I had to disbelieve.

The God Christianity teaches is this God: he knows full well that he's made a dog incapable of climbing trees. He's the creator; the dog has turned out just as he designed it. Dogs neither have the physical skills or equipment to climb trees, nor the brains to use tools to climb them. But God commands all dogs (it's hard to make this message clear to dogs and all inevitably miss the point) that unless they climb trees, they'll be burned forever. When dog after dog after dog after dog fails to climb any trees, God sends dog after dog to its torment in the fires he's brutally prepared for their punishment. That's the God Christianity's own doctrines teach.

Here's another analogy: God knows full well that pigs are unable not to urinate. He made them with bodies that urinate to cleanse themselves. But God commands each pig (again, unsurprisingly, this message is always lost on the pigs) that it mustn't urinate, under any circumstances. It must drink and eat to live, but it must not expel its waste. To urinate is a violation of the divine moral code for pigs, though God created them to urinate. The pigs, of course, urinate. As punishment for violating the holy strictures, the pigs are thrown into a fire forever, to burn in endless torment. That's the God of Christianity! Is it any wonder I doubt because of this doctrine? Is it any wonder that non-Christians are dismayed that Christians actually credit this idea, not to mention hold it essential to the faith?!

For days to come, I could dream up analogies showing what original sin logically makes of God. But doing so would be to little purpose. The God whom Christians want us to believe in turns out to be a fierce and evil God, not a God of love and mercy. He's cruel, malevolent, spiteful, and unspeakably evil, if this doctrine is true. I can hardly find words to describe the hideousness of this God. This God cannot be God! If original sin is true as it is taught, Christianity is violently, horrifyingly inconsistent, and hence utterly false.

Why? Because Jesus, in the same revelation Christians insist teaches original sin, tells us of the Father who, if his son asks for bread, won't give him a stone, or if he asks for fish, won't give him a snake. The God of original sin gives snakes and stones, in fact gives eternal torture, instead of bread and fish. This God is not the same God who sends his son to die on a cross to save mankind. Either the Bible doesn't teach original sin as the church teaches it, or Christianity is false.

Of this I'm so sure that as I write the words, perhaps for the first time ever letting these thoughts into the light, my anxiety evaporates and I'm at peace. I'm not afraid to die this moment and stand before God, if he exists, and tell him that I believe he didn't make us incapable of not sinning, yet is willing and eager, and considers it just, to condemn us forever for sinning. Perhaps, if the church is right, I'll be condemned forever for these words of blasphemy and heresy. Perhaps. But I thank God every day that he, not the church, is my judge. Perhaps I'll burn, but it's more possible that the horrible God of original sin isn't worth knowing and serving and worshipping. To me, he should be scorned and despised.

It might have been comfortable to have been one of Hitler's officers while he was in power. It might even have been pleasant and happy to be in the company of such a great, though evil, man. But some people chose, and very few, that they'd suffer at his hands because enjoying the pleasures of his companionship wasn't worth submitting to him and his evil ideas. To live with a God who treats his creatures with such despicable and reprehensible tyranny would be a torment! I hope, and pray, and trust, that he does not exist!

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12. Plausible Explanations

I'VE COME OFF SOUNDING SO SURE of myself on original sin. What I wrote about the doctrine a couple days ago is actually mostly bravado. I'm not certain I'm right that the doctrine is wicked. Many Christians believe in it without the slightest reservation. I wonder whether my troubles with it show that there's something wrong with my mind. Why can't I just accept it?

Some explanations for the doctrine sound plausible, even sensible, at times. One of the most popular, of course, is that the taint of original sin was introduced into our species when Adam and Eve committed the first sin. The argument goes that Adam was the appointed representative of all men; hence, his sin became all of ours. Sort of damnation by representation. This argument simply will not make sense to me, no matter how severely I admonish myself to be convinced of it. The idea of the fall, to my thinking, doesn't resolve the absurd contradiction that people are to be punished for sins they couldn't keep from committing. It even adds to it the idea that people are to be punished for sins they didn't commit, Adam's and Eve's.

Most of the Bible also puzzles me. There are, I'll admit, a number of important and persuasive passages that teach original sin. Nevertheless, thousands of other passages imply, to me, quite a different doctrine. Throughout the Bible are thousands of passages calling sinners and idolaters to turn back to the ways of God, to do his will and serve and love him. Every one of those passages implies that man is able and free to choose to heed God's call, as if, that is, he were able to choose.

These thoughts are merely more speculation on the problem. They don't change the fact that I'm not as certain of my opinion as I sounded yesterday. I could be wrong, and I might have to reverse myself. Still, my suspicion is strong that if the doctrine of original sin is necessary to Christianity, this religion is false.

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13. Reinventing Christianity

I'M NOT SURE WHETHER MY OPINIONS on original sin mean that I ought to reject Christianity. Perhaps I should retain Christianity and reinterpret the offensive doctrine out of the religion. I've used so many Christian ideas to denounce original sin that it seems pointless to discard Christianity because of this doctrine alone. On what other grounds could I argue against original sin than Christian ideas about the goodness and justice of God? Furthermore, much of Christianity still attracts me and repels me. Doctrines depicting a merciful and powerful God make so much sense and are so appealing; doctrines portraying man's inability to please his Creator and the punishment he could receive for it anger and sicken me.

I sound again as if I were ready at this very moment to apostatize. Not so. I'm still holding tightly to the religion I'm so skeptical of. I'm going to keep believing and hope the doubts original sin has given rise to don't finally loosen my grip on faith, if it's the truth.

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14. Enslavement to Sin

NOW THAT I'VE CONFESSED my skepticism of original sin, I'm trying to determine the truth about human nature. The topic is a good place to begin pursuing truth, because anyone can reach conclusions about human nature based on his own experiences honestly represented and scrutinized. But my experience tells me that original sin makes some sense -- in fact, it makes a lot of sense. People everywhere seem to be sinning, sinning uncontrollably and deplorably (assuming I know which deeds are sins). They're sinning so much they seem to be in slavery to sinfulness. In fact, I sin just as uncontrollably. The world is tenaciously and inveterately selfish, unkind, unloving, cruel, disrespectful, and even evil. I don't feel as though I could overcome my sinfulness, even if I wanted to. Finally, Christianity's teaching that sin is a violation of the moral codes of God, assuming again that we know what it is, seems plausible and good.

Thus, people everywhere appeared to be enslaved to Sin. Sin rides us as though we were donkeys. I often feel exactly this way, as if Sin were on my back and whipping me along. Who, then, can drag Sin off?

Christianity has a persuasive and enthralling answer: God alone can save us from the just punishment for sin and give us the power and the desire to overcome sinfulness -- to throw Sin off our backs. Everyone is so conspicuously lost in sinning and under the sway of sinfulness that it often makes sense to me that we need the Christian God to offer us a gracious gift of salvation from our present slavery and the just torments to come.

I've been wondering whether my real problem with this doctrine isn't God's role in Sin's enslavement, but the consequences of that slavery -- eternal condemnation. It often seems that if the Bible teaches eternal damnation for "original" sinners, then the Bible must be false, and Christianity can tossed aside as an inane superstition. It was hell that so grieved Bertrand Russell -- justifiably so to my mind -- that he classed Christianity as a collection of superstitious myths and delusions.

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15. Universal Salvation

I'M SOMETIMES TEMPTED TO BELIEVE, to avoid the whole problem of original sin and eternal punishment (and because I still yearn for Christianity to be true), either in universal salvation or in second or third chances at salvation through Christ in this world or the one to come. I haven't found much evidence for universal salvation in the Bible, though there is enough for some thinkers. It's true that many passages in the Bible teach other views rather clearly (though they don't explicitly rule out universal salvation). Yet universal salvation is still very appealing because it would make Christianity so much more believable. I want to study the idea and the passages soon to see whether I can find the doctrine taught in the Word (even though I don't know yet whether it is the Word?). If universal salvation in some form is true, then it resolves the cause of some of my most distressing fears and doubts -- undeserved eternal damnation.

Though some Christians through the ages have believed in universal salvation, the churches have seldom taught it. Were those Christians who believed in universal salvation condemned forever when they were sentenced at the Judgement Seat? Did they risk their salvation by believing that most everyone will eventually be saved or that people will be given second and third chances? (Even asking this question is somewhat absurd: the people who believed in universal salvation believed with unwavering assurance that because everyone will be saved they were risking nothing!)

What must I believe? Should I be tempted by doctrines and ideas that make it easier for me to believe in a faith I have an inkling is true but doubt so relentlessly? I'll say it again: I want the truth. I don't want to believe what I'm tempted to believe. But the same standard applies to Christianity as a whole: I shouldn't believe it just because I'm tempted to believe it. But that temptation is presently the only basis for my faith.

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16. An Apologist for the Bible

IT'S PUZZLING THAT I'D like to try to find universal salvation taught in the Bible. I don't even know yet whether it's the revealed Word of God. I'd been waiting on pins and needles for Clark Pinnock to get to his defense of the Bible, what he calls "The Historical Basis for Faith." But when I eagerly sped through the chapter a couple of days ago, I was once again sorely disappointed.

Pinnock spends most of the chapter pointing out minor, yet authentic-sounding details in the Gospels that convince him that these biographies are authentic and historically accurate. Each of his most significant details, such as the description of the grave clothes left lying in the sepulchre on Easter morning, prove nothing. They can all be interpreted in any number of ways and can be stacked up against hundreds of other minor details sounding so patently unauthentic that they're ludicrous, such as, to take just one example, Jesus's evening strolls on the Sea of Galilee.

Pinnock finally gets around to his best point near the end of the chapter: just as Paul Little did, he points out that to question the historical validity of the Gospels is to question the validity of most historical documents. Yes, I agree. But this statement doesn't answer an overwhelmingly important question: how does one choose between the thousands of conflicting historical documents? In answer, Pinnock reaches his conclusion:

In the case of Jesus's resurrection we have received convincing reports that a unique event occurred; this event resists successful explanation by ordinary means; it seems natural, therefore, given its total context, to take this unique event for a fact. Not to believe it, in my opinion, is to give up on the ordinary way we gain knowledge of the world.

First, how convincing the reports are is seriously questionable. Second, it's downright ignorant for Pinnock to assert that the events resist successful explanation by other means. How can Pinnock put his head in the sand? Doesn't he realize that if Christianity were true, it follows that innumerable other illusions have been promulgated and believed as truth in the history of the world? Third, it seems (note what I'm acknowledging by using that word) more natural to me to toss out the Gospels as balderdash! Accepting them as historical seems utterly witless. Finally, rejecting the historicity of the Gospels doesn't compel anyone to give up knowledge of anything. It's a matter of opinion -- even for Pinnock. Does he believe everything he reads, every purported historical document from Homer to the Bhagavad Gita? Of course not. No one would be so foolish. And most people (including Christians) are of the opinion that most legendary stories filled with miracles are bunk!

Pinnock doesn't even bother with the authenticity of the rest of the Bible, nor with whether the Bible is the Word of God. He seems to presume that we'll figure the argument out for ourselves. It's for the best that he doesn't, I suppose; he'd probably have given me more doubts than I already have.

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17. Prayer Habits

LATELY, I'VE BECOME WEARY of Christian prayer. I can hardly bow my head in church or at table or in a Bible study group any longer. None of the prayers I hear being delivered up to the Holy God seem to have any hope of being answered. God doesn't seem to be listening. Anyway, I still don't know who he is. So why pray? Why bow my head and ask God to give so-and-so safe travel, or a good job in a particular city, or safe surgery, or a good parking space, or a low price on a new house, or a good night's sleep, or whatever? God doesn't seem interested, nor should he be, in answering such prayers. In any case, despite all the confident assertions of my friends, it can't be determined whether he's answered any like them. People who never pray and don't believe in God or in the "power" of prayer get good jobs, travel safely, and survive operations rather well, thank you.

My doubts are ruining all my acts of faith: I can't pray because I doubt whether Christianity is the truth; if the faith is false, what good is praying to the God of the Christians, who's an illusion produced by superstitions and wishful thinking? None whatsoever, it would appear.

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18. Relating to God

I SOMETIMES FIND MYSELF -- this is acutely embarrassing -- talking to God. Though I have no assurance that anyone or anything is listening, I talk. Nowadays, I talk mostly about my doubts; I complain about the inadequacy of the evidence for Christianity, demand that God appear to me, or plead with him for a gift of certainty. When these one-sided conversations end (God has never yet answered in any way), I usually feel pretty sheepish. Why am I doing this? Perhaps this is why I especially dislike and doubt prayer -- I never hear or "feel" God answer. How foolish to keep believing that he's worth talking to if I don't know who he is and never get a response out of him.

It's also a serious problem for faith, because lacking experiences of God, naturally, causes me to be skeptical of the whole religion that promises all these remarkable, rewarding experiences of his "presence," of having a "relationship" with "the living God." Odd sort of relationship so far for me, though. Strange definition for living too.

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19. The Egotism Behind Doubt

I'M BEGINNING TO LOOK, even to myself, like an egotist. Undeniably, skepticism makes a person so self-absorbed and vain that he begins to admire and delight in his skeptical inclinations. Egotism is wearying, offensive, and reproachful. No less, however, is it inevitable for the skeptic. The skeptic studies thought itself; obviously, there's nowhere else for him to explore and examine thought than in his own mind. His appearing egotistical is the result; if there's no choice, why deny or fret over it?

I've often insisted that there's only one starting point in the search for truth: me. For you, there's also only one starting point: you. We can each begin at no other point, not at God or science or presuppositions or axioms or theorems. All these are weighed after we make decisions, usually unconscious decisions, about where the truth might be found and what it might or should look like. We can't choose to trust the opinions of other people, or even God (if we think we know him and can sit under his teaching), before deciding ourselves whether someone else is trustworthy (in the case of God, whether he is God). Though in many ways this egotism is repulsive, no one should stop trusting one's own mind in the search for truth; no one can find and know the truth without that seemingly egotistical trust. One must go on one's own best judgement; there is no other avenue.

I hate myself when I'm doubting, though the hate is veiled in brazen, cunning self-confidence. Even to me, my words sound, and no doubt to anyone who happened to read them, as though I want to be skeptical because I want to be in control, because I hold my intellect in the highest esteem, because my powers of reasoning satisfy me, because I'm quite sure that if I delve ever deeper into my mind and soul I'll discover the fountainhead of truth.

It does appear narcissistic to doubt. But I don't love myself. I don't want to proclaim myself the sole arbiter of truth -- of all ideas and doctrines and theories and creeds. But I've learned that it doesn't matter what I want. The fact is, I have no choice. I must think through my own mind. No other mind is open to me. You must do the same, and you'll probably appear just as narcissistic to me as I do to you. I must decide what's true; if God exists, that's the way he designed human beings. I reserve for myself choices about truth and faith not because I love and trust myself so unswervingly or hold my brain in such lofty regard, but because no one can make choices for me, not even someone I choose to trust -- I must choose to trust him!

I can't climb into someone else's mind and plug in an adapter. I can employ no mind other than the one I'm thinking with right now to find, know, and assent to truth. The same is true for everyone else, including you, whether or not you think yourself a humble and submissive follower of the authoritative Church Fathers (who, pray tell, other than you decided they're authoritative?) or is modestly entrusting his soul to the ideas of his betters (who determined they're trustworthy?). You made the choice what to believe true. Your put on the guise of humility later. You and I are no different; doubt simply makes conspicuous what's true for all men, no matter how vehemently one may protest that one's trusting to the brilliance of a great thinker, or even to God.

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20. Close to Renouncing Christianity

I STILL HAVEN'T PRAYED once about the problems in my marriage. Does this show I'm not a Christian? What about all the other clues that I no longer believe? I'm getting less out of church all the time; I can't listen to sermons and allow much of what my pastor preaches; I can't take communion without feeling somewhat asinine for participating in a meaningless ritual honoring a man who's been dead for two thousand years; I can't sing hymns without a chuckle (most of them make ludicrously grandiose and sweeping pronouncements about the life of the Christian); I can't live in peace and with purpose; Christianity is a source of constant anxiety and discord rather than peace; I'm mostly fed up with trying to defend Christianity; I find its doctrines so irritatingly unconvincing and ill-supported that I can't conceive of any way they might apply to my marital problems.

That's quite a list of clues, isn't it? I've got to admit that I'm perilously close to renouncing the faith. And is it any wonder? Probably the real wonder is that I still believe at all, still want to consider myself, in some Christian sense, "saved." It's shameful for me to admit that the reason I haven't recanted, despite my unremitting doubts, is that I'm afraid. For some reason (how many times have I written those three words in these pages?), I still fear the consequences of apostatizing. (Though I still consider myself a Christian, there's no way for me to prove wrong those who would decide that I've already in fact fallen.) I still fear the possibility of eternal punishment and still long for eternal life. I'm still so inclined (by what?) to believe many of the essential Christian doctrines that I can't work up the courage to repudiate this religion as myth.

On the other hand, I'm not afraid, for some reason, of my skepticism. I think this is an important point. Christians often regard doubt as a state of mind that shouldn't be tolerated for long. I'm fairly certain, I'll hazard to say, that this isn't true. I'm so certain of this that I'm not afraid of the consequences of doubting Christianity at the same time I believe in it with a faith skepticism has badly corroded. If Christianity turned out to be true and I were to die tonight, even though I've questioned the truth of every doctrine of Christianity with uncompromising suspicion and mistrust, I believe I'd be saved. Most Christians would probably think I'm kidding myself. But on what grounds can I delude myself? In my opinion, I question orthodox doctrines, after much reflection and a great deal of fear, not because I'm trying to rationalize my sinfulness, my rebellion, and my hatred for God, but because doubt is a part of faith. I don't cling to doubt as a fool clings to his ideas; doubt is in me unbidden and unquenchable. For me, and it's surely so for many others, doubt must be an inevitable part of trying to believe in this religion or any other. Doubt simply won't let itself be overthrown.

Have I done myself irreparable damage by not praying about my marriage or my failing business? Is God waiting for me to die to punish me for being a doubter, which has caused my lack of prayer? I think not. I don't understand why doubt has come to play a big role in my mind, but though there are dangers in doubting, they shouldn't induce me to deny that I'm skeptical and to start pretending to be a "good," faithful Christian in order to cover myself just in case God turns out to be the Trinity.

Christianity, it's important to note, does often seem true to me, for reasons I haven't yet uncovered; but doubting it, most of the time, seems impeccably reasonable too. Yes, skepticism is keeping me from doing many Christian duties and from enjoying Christianity's gifts and priveledges -- from peace and freedom to hope. But I can't accept that God will condemn a doubter like me, if he turns out to be the Trinity. How dangerous an attitude, I can already imagine Gerry telling me (if ever I were to disclose these thoughts to him). But it's a fact--people doubt, even Christians. Should anyone believe that doubters don't have enough of what's needed to make the grade. God forbid, would be my answer.

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21. The Wrath of God

IN THE MEANTIME, I MUST DECIDE what I should be doing about God, shouldn't I? To wait for certainty seems a big mistake; certainty, I think I've proved, is a chimera.

The only doctrines of Christianity that make sense to believe in right now concern the moral code laid out in the Bible. Because I do have this abiding sense that damnation and eternal life, much like they've been described in the Bible, are very plausible, I think I should be trying to keep the commandments of God and Jesus.

I thoroughly doubt most of the rest of Christianity--the praying, the sacraments, the gifts of the Spirit, most of the doctrines concerning God and Jesus Christ, the need to know the precise will of God, and more. I'm going to ignore the mystical practices, the doctrinal confessions, the praying, the devotion, and the enthusiastic rejoicing. I'm going to keep the commandments.

There's one other matter too: I have an ever-present fear of the wrath of God (probably because I accept that there's a moral code), so I should also repent of my sins and seek forgiveness from God, while I hope to find out that it's true that forgiveness comes--at least--through faith in the atoning death of Jesus Christ.

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22. Ancient Questions: Those Who Have Never Heard of Jesus and Universalism

I HAVE A COUPLE OF QUESTIONS for those who securely believe that Christianity is the truth: first, is there one person in the history of the human race who didn't know enough to choose to trust in Jesus Christ for his salvation? Surely everyone, no matter what his religion or philosophy, must agree that many people didn't and couldn't know enough to choose Christ. The retarded and the insane, infants dashed against trees and left to die on hillsides, the brutalized and the oppressed, the starved, the naked, the aborted, the stupid. Would anyone argue that these kinds of people knew or could have known enough to believe in Christ for their salvation? I can't conceive of it, although Russell, the staunch Calvinist as always, would most likely take a pretty good stab at it.

My second question is: what happens to such people when they die? Nowhere in the Bible, supposedly God's revelation, is the story of a person unable to know enough for salvation but to whom God still awarded Paradise. The Bible teaches (I have little confidence any more that I understand its teachings, but I must press on with what I think and try to learn more) nothing definite on this topic. Many Christians might hope that God won't eternally torment anyone who was unable to choose the atonement of Christ as his salvation, but divine revelation, if we know what it is and what it means, doesn't often assure us that what we'd like to be true is true. It's possible God will save such a person from punishment, isn't it? Isn't the Christian God the good father who loves and seeks the one missing sheep? Isn't the Christian God the compassionate father who sends his son to die for his lost creatures? To me, these actions suggest that God won't condemn the distraught and the oppressed, regardless of how orthodox their doctrinal stances are.

Some Christians contend, on the contrary, that there is not the slightest possibility that anyone other than a person redeemed according to the strict Protestant formula will be saved. Many passages in the Bible teach, they dauntlessly point out, that salvation comes only through faith in Christ; for inscrutable reasons, God made people unable to choose faith in Christ, but will still condemn them to hell for not receiving his offer of forgiveness and justification. (As I have been arguing all along, if this doctrine is true, Christianity is false on grounds of gross inconsistency.)

I can't accept such a position. I remember a young child I knew many years ago when Cheryl and I were dating. We were helping retarded kids in a club. The young girl--she was about fifteen years old--took a fancy to me. One Saturday at a gathering for the club at a gym, the girl followed me around for hours. She asked me ridiculous questions just to listen to me talk. Repeatedly, she wanted to show off her talents to me--hopping, standing on one leg, doing the standing broad jump. I pitied her. I don't know a great deal about retardation, but that girl had the mind, to be generous, of a three-year-old. Her parents told me that her intelligence would probably never increase and would certainly never enable her to decide anything about philosophy or religion--to decide whether Christ was God or man, whether he rose from the dead or rotted in the grave, whether he was the atonement or a great myth. When she died, as she did a year or two later, what happened to her in the hands of God?

Theologians of a particular stripe have no qualms about believing, and they argue strenuously and unyieldingly for their beliefs, that this child is now burning in hell and will burn forever. My answer to the question leads to a view of life and faith that in some ways conflicts with the teachings of the New Testament as they have been narrowly interpreted by the churches through the ages, but is not, I contend, in conflict with the spirit of the New Testament--that is, the implications of its teachings. God, in my opinion, most probably received this young girl into paradise because she was unable to choose faith in Christ to be forgiven of her sins and morally justified. Most probably? How can I be sure? I can't; but the Bible describes, assuming it's the Word of God, not only a wrathful and angry and punishing God, but also a forbearing, longsuffering, and merciful God--even, at times, in the Old Testament. God loves people so dearly, Christianity itself teaches, he was willing to die for them, to bear the fury of his own wrath for them. This is not, it's very clear to me, a God who burns retarded children forever.

My faith takes a giant leap forward with this answer, even though it's heretical and I can't be certain I'm right. If God has justified that retarded girl--that is, if he allowed for her ignorance and stupidity, her "inability"--won't he also allow for the ignorance, stupidity, and "inabilities," though they impair them somewhat less, of all people? For are we as dissimilar to that young retarded girl as we so often foolishly imagine? As she was shackled to the powers of mind and soul she was born with, so isn't everyone else (though he might not qualify as retarded) shackled to the powers of his mind? Who is to say, other than God, that one man should have known enough to choose Christ? What mere man, great theologian or not, can know enough and be wise enough to ascertain whether another person had enough knowledge and intelligence to choose faith in Christ and be saved? No man--however great and brilliant and wise he regards himself--can know enough about another man's life to make that determination. Only God knows the extenuating circumstances (dare I use this phrase despised by Christians) of each person's life. And, contrary to the most common Christian opinion, it's quite clear to me that there are extenuating circumstances, even in my own life (just look at my doubts, to be a bit self-serving). Only God can decide whether a person was able, and how much he was able, to choose and think and act.

And now I come to my point. If we're willing to accept that God brought one person into paradise on the grounds that that person was unable to choose the salvation he offers, we've opened the door, at last, to letting God decide who will and will not be given an eternal life with him. When we're each dead and standing before him at his throne, we might all be very surprised by the people we meet. They will probably be the people we had least expected to spend eternity with. We might also be very surprised at what we learn about ourselves--about our own errors and follies, our ignorance and downright stupidity. (I would again dismiss one argument here. Don't bother making to me the argument that God, if he had wanted her in heaven, would have created the retarded girl "normal." I will say it again--such a God isn't worth believing in, and is, in any case, false!)

Am I right? Possibly. If I believe that the Bible is the only source of metaphysical truth, then I must still hold back and admit that I can't be certain. Too many passages assert that Christ is the exclusive salvation. But my ideas, based on ideas and events and hints in the Bible itself (which, you'll notice, I appear to believe to be God's revelation without a single doubt, which isn't true), helps me to believe with fewer doubts. I can more easily believe in a God who takes into account extenuating circumstances than in a God of the "One Way" through Christ, though it might be heretical and spiritually dangerous to do so. So much of the world doesn't make sense by believing in the One Way; so many evils, so much ignorance, so much stupidity, so much disagreement, so much confusion, so much uncertainty--that is, so many extenuating circumstances--hold sway.

There is, I might still believe, one way, and it might be through Christ. But who will find it, how he'll find it, and when he'll find it isn't my business or yours to know or divine. I hope I'm right. If I'm wrong, I hope God will forgive me for my error when I stand before him without, to be sure, much desire to defend myself. I hope he'll save those whom I mislead. But belief, quite simply, now seems more possible with this theory than without it. I can actually begin to consider Christianity true when I put salvation in God's hands rather than in the hands of the creeds and confessions and theologies, or in the hands of the "great" theologians.

Have I made a first step toward faith at last? What about my doubts of the Bible and the resurrection, of Jesus and miracles, of all the other questionable "Christian" ideas and doctrines, such as original sin, I've been doubting for so long? I've got to do some more thinking. Why does this idea make it possible for me to be less skeptical when I still haven't answered so many important questions about faith and truth and the Christian religion?

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23. Leaving Salvation to God

AS ILLOGICAL AS Clark Pinnock's book has been, it's given me reason to be hopeful about extenuating circumstances. While discussing the common objection that it wouldn't be fair for God to condemn the savage who hadn't heard the Gospel, Pinnock makes these statements:

There is another view, equally current and capable of validation from the Scriptures, that holds that God deals with people where he finds them. If he finds them in paganism,... he can communicate with them in that milieu.... As C.S. Lewis said, God has not revealed all his arrangements to us, and we are not required to speculate about the outcome of judgments God has not yet shared with us.

I guess I'm taking this conjecture to its limit--God knows not only what to do about the savage who hasn't heard the Gospel, but also those unable to "hear," that is, those who can't understand, who can't break through skepticism, who are trapped in their minds or in the influences of culture and ideas that cause falsehoods to make sense true to them, who can't see through confusion and uncertainty, who simply can't see the sense, for one reason or another (and there are a lot of them) of Christianity. I can leave to God not only the shaman in the jungles of Borneo, but also the atheist working in a skyscraper in Chicago.

This helps. This gives me room to put the problem of hell aside. God decides who's damned and how severe it should be, not the creeds or the doctrines, however much Christians might esteem them. And that idea makes Christianity make more sense.

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24. Hernan Cortes, Immorality, and Disagreement

ONE HISTORICAL PERSON causes me more doubts than any other: Hernan Cortes, who in 1521 conquered the Aztec Empire. Cortes isn't unique, but his story is so extraordinary and so improbable that he has had an influence on all my deliberations of Christianity. I learned most about Cortes in a great book about the conquest by William Prescott, the renowned nineteenth-century American historian. Prescott's history, The Conquest of Mexico, because of its acute attention to narrative detail and to original documents, will probably never be surpassed for accuracy nor the excellence of its prose.

Cortes set out in 1519, after he discovered it existed, to conquer the Aztec Empire for Spain. With just a few hundred soldiers, he eventually succeeded--after two years of military campaigns between the Gulf of Mexico and Tenochtitlan, the capitol of this sturdy empire--in destroying the Aztec kingdom, subjugating its people, and claiming its lands and possessions for the King of Spain. What a spectacular exploit!

Nonetheless, how evil it was. Regardless of one's opinion of the morality of Aztec society or its princes (and they were grotesquely immoral), one can't judge the Spanish conquest, in my estimation, anything other than wicked. Cortes's conquest was bloody, greedy, and cruel. It was pursued not to save and redeem the Aztecs--however much Cortes and his soldiers deluded themselves into thinking this their motive--but to expand the Spanish Empire, find gold for her king, and gain honor, glory, and riches for Cortes and his band. Almost nothing about the conquest, especially in the eyes of a Christian, can be regarded as virtuous, not even the perfunctory evangelism practiced by Cortes and the Spanish priests riding with him. This event is, in my judgement, more than a blot on Catholicism; it mocks Christianity and the sovereign God Christians worship.

But the conquest is more than one more sin (there are a lot of them) of which the Church must repent. Cortes's conquest of the Aztecs teaches us something decisive. For Cortes believed with all his heart and mind (read his letters from New Spain, Prescott's history, or the famous chronicle of Bernal Diaz, one priest who rode with Cortes, if you'd like to check whether this assertion is valid), believed with a conviction as strong as any Christian I've ever met, read about, or heard of, that he was performing the will of God when he vanquished the Aztec Empire with appalling savagery. Cortes believed sincerely, with as much sincere and confident faith in his spiritual insight and in his "leading" from the Holy Spirit (though he wouldn't have called it that) as any modern saint or evangelist, that his murder of thousands upon thousands at Tlascala, at Cholula, and then finally at Tenochtitlan was urged upon him by God. Cortes believed with all his heart--with as much confidence as Luther had in his theology of justification by faith--that God wanted him, in fact commanded him, to pin the Aztecs in their beautiful city and slowly starve and murder them into submission. To put his stamp of approval on Cortes's actions and decisions, God, Cortes believed--again, to belabor the point, with as much certainty as any Christian ever claiming to trust that Christ died for him and that eternal life is his through faith--gave Cortes victory after victory on the mountains and in the plains of Mexico.

If a man, any man, and the historical evidence is overwhelming that men have believed that evil is the will of God again and again and again, can believe that evil is good, in fact hold true that evil is God's will, how can any other person, past or present, as humiliating and disturbing as recognizing and admitting these weaknesses is, trust his own judgement of truth and right? If Cortes duped himself so villainously and stupidly (and he did), and if so many others throughout history has duped themselves, you and I can dupe--and probably have duped--ourselves. History shows us how often such horrendous errors have been made, no matter which side you take on any particular moral or theological issue. Therefore, it is plain that we are more likely than not to commit the same abominable errors of faith and judgement that Hernan Cortes committed during his infamous conquest.

Can we deny this? Is there any way to demonstrate that we alive in this century might be free from the depravity that led Cortes so far astray? Can we appeal that we're Christians--which, it should never be forgotten, was just what Cortes held himself to be?

It was impossible, we might at first feel certain, for Cortes to miss his error. He knew the teachings of the Bible; he knew the teachings of the Catholic Church, which he held true as assuredly as one kind of Protestant might hold the Heidelberg Catechism true. Was Cortes simply deceiving himself and all of posterity with the sincere zeal for truth and God shown in his letters and actions? The only way for Cortes to know that he was not in error, short of God bashing him over the head, was his sincerity. This is even admitted by the great thinkers of the church. All men must first be honest with themselves before they can see that the Bible is the revelation of God and Christ is his salvation. When we see that it's the Word, we can then put aside our reason to learn truth in revelation, truth our unaided reason would never find. But, at the beginning, people must be honest and sincere. Without honesty and sincerity, how will any man be able to know anything, or know that he knows anything, about God?

Cortes was so honest and sincere, so certain he was doing the will of God, that he was willing to try to overthrow a huge, violent, and evil empire with a couple hundred fortune-seekers. Now that's sincerity and faith! That's faith to which I can only aspire. But what was the fruit of this sincerity and honesty and zeal--sins abounding, thousands upon thousands of atrocious and hypocritical crimes, all considered by the sinners to be acts of great virtue performed in the name, and for the sake, of God and his Kingdom.

In spite of my talk about finding ways to believe in Christianity during the past couple of weeks, the story of Cortes has brought me to the brink of disbelief. This story has ruined hope of certainty. This man believed with all his soul, with every ounce of certainty I could ever wish to muster, that his acts of outrageous immorality--in my judgement, which is still the only judgement I have to use--were deeds God commanded him to execute. Can I delude myself with dreams that I am, can know that I am, or ever will be, free from the same folly to which Cortes yielded so completely? Can I dream that anyone who ever lived was free from that folly? There's no way to answer yes or no. Cortes ruins every answer. In the story of Cortes, my thirst for sincerity and honesty and the truth are shown to be subject to the likelihood that I won't believe in the true and the good, that I'll commit sins and call them virtues, that I'll believe in error and call it truth, that I'll imagine myself to be doing God's will and yet be performing deeds he abhors and condemns.

Cortes is enough to ruin all certainty, even all hope, because he ruins all human attempts at honesty and all human knowledge of metaphysical truth. Thousands of others like him have come and gone. For example, if we assume Christianity is true, Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, believed with all his heart he'd received a new revelation--and he was wrong. For another example, still assuming Christianity true, Mohammed, the founder of Islam, believed that he'd received a revelation from God--and he was wrong. Do the Mormons and the Muslims not believe in the truth of their doctrines with the same feeling of honesty, sincerity, conviction, zeal, and overmastering confidence Gerry and Susan and Russell and Hernan Cortes believed with? Certainly. But either the Muslim or the Christian is wrong! We can't all be right. (At least, it seems absurd to try to harmonize all the exclusivist religions and philosophies in order to render them all true. Making them fit each other would make each of them into something else.) Either Cortes sinned or he was virtuous. Either I'm wrong that he sinned or he was that he was doing the will of God. Either Mohammed was a prophet or he wasn't. Either Joseph Smith fabricated his revelation or he was the prophet of the true God, who wants us all to become Latter Day Saints. And if one of them was a prophet, I, and Christians of much stronger and surer faith than I, ARE WRONG!!!

There's no way to demonstrate, we must all admit, whether any one of us is free from the delusion and folly that ruined Cortes's judgement and intellect and soul. And because we can never be sure that we're free from such forces, whichever ones actually hold sway, we can never know for certain whether we know the truth. It will always be at least possible that we believe--just as Cortes did--that what's false is true and that what's right is wrong. The evidence of history shows that the possibility is indeed a statistical probability.

This predicament is the legacy of Cortes. How can I delude myself into arrogantly believing that I'm free, while Cortes, who believed in the same God I'm trying to believe in, wasn't? I have no means by which to confirm that I am.

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25. The Wrongness of Hernan Cortes

WHERE DO THESE ARGUMENTS LEAD? Must I reject Christianity because of Cortes? Does Cortes prove Christianity false?

Perhaps all the story of Cortes proves is, once again, no one can be certain. I suspect, however, that yesterday's discussion has a worse result. If God is the Trinity and he allows his people to be severely confused and to make dreadfully grave errors, it's very doubtful he's the true God. Cortes makes Christianity seem very suspect because his story shows that nobody can establish that he's not just as deluded about his faith as Cortes was--yet, according to Christianity, he faces punishment in hell if he doesn't believe correctly. Would the true God allow this to happen to Cortes or to anyone else?

My sincerity, my understanding, my judgement, my faith, my powers of reason, my knowledge are all sullied by the same forces that sullied the heart and mind of Cortes. How do I know this? Because I like Cortes am human. It would be brazen arrogance to maintain that I know by some deep-seated feeling from the Holy Spirit that I'm free of the ignorance and confusion and sinfulness which Cortes didn't know he'd been deluded by!

Cortes was sincerely certain that his throwing down the statues of the Aztec deities in Cholula and then slaughtering those who protested was the will of God, a virtuous deed in the eyes of the divine Creator of the universe. Cortes deemed it good, sublimely good, to murder the infidel Aztecs in the pursuit of higher ends--gold, the expansion of the Spanish Empire in the New World, and the spread of the Gospel he hoped the Aztecs he would murder would adopt and insisted the Aztecs who survived embrace. Cortes thought that God was calling him to capture Montezuma through deceptions, imprison him, and then coerce him into obedience. Cortes had greater faith than I will ever have that God sanctioned all his deeds during the conquest, even Cortes's preventing other Spaniards from taking command of his small army and the conquest, though this was the desire of his superiors in Cuba. With his powers of reason, Cortes came to the conclusion that he could surround the city of Tenochtitlan and destroy it building by building, street by street, until no more than a small enclave was left in the hands of the Aztecs. Cortes believed it was God's will that he then starve the remaining Aztecs into surrender and submission to Spanish rule and to the authority of the Catholic Church.

Cortes was wrong on every count. God had given him no such commands, despite how firmly Cortes believed. God condemned all his actions, from the massacres to the lying. If Christianity is true, I believe these statements true. I believe the Bible gives no license for this kind of behavior for any purpose. I believe that if anyone heard the voice of God commanding him to commit deeds that violate the biblical moral code, he should ignore the voice; it isn't God's. Why did Cortes, a Christian, or at least one who regarded himself a good Christian, not see that he was wrong? And if Cortes could in one era of human history not see that, despite all his feelings of certainty and piety and righteousness, despite his desire to do the will of God and his zeal to advance His Kingdom, how can I ever be sure that I'm right about anything I believe?

Don't bother appealing to the illumination of the Holy Spirit to assure yourself that you believe the truth and know God's will. Cortes did the same, and look at what he did and believed. Cortes thought he knew. He risked hell because he was so sure. He was confident that his actions were virtuous and Godly, not abhorrent. He believed he was acting to improve his standing before God, not imperil his soul with heinous, unrepented sins. He was dead wrong!

Why didn't God wake him up to the truth? If the God of Christianity exists, why didn't he help Cortes, busily destroying himself with deeds he thought God expected of him? Did God condemn Cortes for these sins? If he did, can I ever be sure that I'm in his favor, even if I believe in Christ as the Protestants teach me to believe in him? I could believe and act on a set of falsehoods no less evil than Cortes acted on, no less delusory and foolish. Could God allow this to happen if he's the Trinity and the Bible is his Word? It makes no sense!

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26. Great Thinkers Who Believe

CLARK PINNOCK MAKES A FEEBLE attempt to defend the Christian faith by trotting out its Hall of Fame. Pinnock maintains that Christianity is probably true because the great Christian thinkers are worthy of our trust:

It would be difficult to charge that these intellectual and spiritual giants [such as Isaiah, Paul, Blaise Pascal, and Karl Barth] who wrestled with the need to be critical and honest as well as devout were being deluded.

BAH! If they were not being deluded, then we must admit that thousands of other intellectual "giants" who disagree with them were being deluded. So why is it difficult to make this charge?! It isn't difficult at all. In fact, it's statistically probable that they--Isaiah, Paul, Pascal, Barth, and others Pinnock mentions--as great as Christians think they are, were being deluded. An average person will always find it virtually impossible to choose which great thinker to trust for the truth.

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27. Urgency About Choosing

THIS HAS GOT TO END. I can't keep it up. I must choose yes or no. Black or white. Skepticism, I've realized for the first time, is impossible to believe with logical consistency. Choices must be and are made, if only by not choosing. Unrestrained skepticism breaks apart as soon as it's accepted. For if skepticism is true, it disproves itself: if nothing can be known, skepticism can't be known. And there's the logical end of pure skepticism.

I've clearly recognized this profound predicament in skepticism for the first time. I think it's been coming clearer for a number of weeks, but I haven't wanted to acknowledge it. I've been relying on skepticism for so many years that it's hard to give up hope in it, hard to realize that it was nothing more than a dream that skepticism could guide me to goodness and truth. For skepticism, I've had to face at last, is only a passage to the truth, not truth itself. I've been passing though skepticism to faith and truth, faith in some truth, though I don't know which yet.

Doubt won't allow someone to take refuge in it. No one can be completely skeptical. No one can behave as a thorough and perfect agnostic, because if one believed one knew and could know nothing one would do nothing, not even accept agnosticism. In the end, skepticism breeds a timid reluctance to choose, but choices await us all just the same. They're finally forced upon us by skepticism itself. To be skeptical, in the end, is to reject. To be permanently skeptical of Christianity is to believe, in essence, that it's false. And if I hold it false, I am not skeptical about it. Is this my decision? Is this what I hold true, that Christianity's false? If I choose to remain skeptical, this will be the choice made for me! The question now is: do I choose to be skeptical and thereby reject Christianity or do I choose to believe?

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28. No Peace in Skepticism

BECAUSE I CAN'T ESCAPE DOUBT, I've more and more wanted to find rest in doubting--in being a skeptic. I've wanted to believe in doubting. I've wanted to make skepticism a creed, a faith, the truth. (Typically modern of me, I've learned from my reading.) I've never seemed able to resolve any problem to a certainty or answer any question with complete confidence. And I've found myself championing doubt, eternal and all-powerful to pull down every stronghold of religion and philosophy. Skepticism has become my religion, my crusade. My only faith has been in doubt.

But skepticism has brought no rest or peace, security or hope. I've felt no less fear from doubting everything than from having faith in something and fearing I was wrong. No assurances bless those dwelling in the state of blessed skepticism. The fruits of skepticism, I think I've faced for the first time, are unconsoling anxiety and unassuagable fear.

Furthermore, when I try to act according to the dictums of the religion of skepticism, I realize now, there's nothing to be done; since I can be sure of nothing, I have no actions to take. Is that any less fearful?! Thus, skepticism is an empty, unsatisfying faith. It's more unsettling and terrifying and disturbing than Christianity! And, perhaps, for that reason alone--dare I make this assertion--it's less likely to be true.

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29. The Habit of Believing

MY DIFFICULTY IS THAT I don't know how to lay aside skepticism. I've believed in it for so long, just as I once unquestioningly believed in Christianity for so long, that it's become exceedingly difficult to stop thinking and believing skeptically. I need deprogramming, detoxifying. Whenever I try just to believe in something, the doubts stage a massive street protest in my mind. They simply won't allow me to ignore their voices or not take their demands into account.

For this reason, I don't yet see an end to skepticism for me. How can I just choose to believe a creed, whichever one seems most true to me, when doubt erects barriers to every creed? I can't think of an answer to this question, though I'm desperately hoping for one.

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30. Calvinism and Election

I DIDN'T LEARN ABOUT THE DOCTRINE of election until many years after I'd become a Christian. It was shocking to realize that many Christians and great Christian thinkers of the past and present deemed the doctrine of election as truth. And it was more disturbing to hear about and then read the passages in the Bible that teach it, even teach it explicitly. In fact, because those passages are unambiguous, I've recently felt that reason was compelling me to accept election, which has been, since I learned about it, an obvious and odious contradiction of the Christian faith I'm tenuously holding onto. If I must accept this contradiction, I might have to reject Christianity altogether.

The strongest and most chilling form of the doctrine is taught in Reformed Churches, one of which I've been attending for several years now. If the doctrine is true, I should say at the outset, I want to believe it. I can't believe it, however, because I see no way to credit its intolerable and unavoidable implications. As I understand it, the doctrine teaches that God chooses to save people and that people can't, by any means, choose to be saved by him. This clearly implies that God chooses to save some from but damn the rest to the fires of hell (or not to save the damned, as some would have it to protect the "goodness" of God). Combine this doctrine with original sin, and Christianity has concocted a madman on the throne of heaven, a brutal tyrant regarded by fanatical, deluded Christians as the loving Creator of the universe and Savior of mankind.

When combined with the doctrines of God's absolute sovereignty and original sin, the doctrine of election, it's plain to me, makes God entirely responsible for whether each person living in any time or place or in any society is granted salvation. If God's responsible for each person's salvation, then he is, of logical necessity, responsible for the unbelief (remember that Christianity teaches that he's absolutely sovereign) of non-Christians, for which they'll be damned. God can choose to save anyone he wants to save, because he's sovereign. The doctrine of election does teach that his will and purposes in saving are inscrutable. But what other conclusion can be drawn than that God damns people who, according to original sin, can only be saved by him? My dear Christian friends, especially Russell, who accept this doctrine: say what you will about your humble reluctance to question God, but if we learned of another religion that taught such a doctrine, we would dismiss it as nothing more than perilous nonsense, a pack of indisputably evil contradictions.

I'm fully certain that a good God, whom Christianity also teaches, doesn't elect. I know this just as surely as Christians know that God didn't give to mankind the revelation of morality, salvation, rules, and regulations of the Qur'an. If I must believe in the doctrine of election to ensure that I get no credit for earning my salvation--which is what I guess makes the doctrine attractive--or to be a "real" Christian, then Christianity is false, and Christians are spreading an evil religion with a false God.

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31. The Nonsense of the Doctrine of Election

I'VE READ A NUMBER OF DEFENSES of the doctrine of election. The most common is that God gives people just what he knows they'll accept. But isn't this defense utterly ridiculous? According to the doctrine, God alone can induce someone to accept Christ and be saved; everyone is entirely unable to choose to believe for their salvation. Then why, pray tell, does God damn those who don't believe?! It's he who doesn't give them faith! It's he who decides what they'll accept! Of course they won't accept faith; that's what the doctrine itself assures.

Is this just a mystery that Christians must learn to submit to? No! It's nonsense. God, if he's good and just in any sense, would never give us minds capable of reason and then saddle the faith he expects us to see as truth with a howling contradiction. Surely (according to the doctrine), God knows why non-Christians haven't chosen to believe in Christ to be forgiven and justified--because he didn't choose them to believe. So, again, why is God so cruel and unfair as to condemn to eternal fire those who can do nothing (what original sin and election teach) about their condition? God, the Creator who has his eye on the sparrow, who counts the hairs on our heads, who promises great, wondrous gifts for his creatures, would never be so cruel. Such a God is a devil! If Christianity must teach election, Christianity is false.

This entire doctrine causes me, once again, to want to apostatize and stop trusting anyone who believes in Christ. Some other creed has got to be the truth, because this doctrine destroys whatever confidence I could possibly have in this religion. God must be just and good. Christianity teaches that he's an unimaginably abominable tyrant. Impossible!

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32. The Character of God

I RE-READ WHAT I WROTE A FEW DAYS AGO, and though I agree with almost all my conclusions, one point still bothers me. I wrote, "God is just and good." How do I know that? Outside Christian revelation, I can't know that. Perhaps just as I learned to believe in a just and good God, I must learn to believe in a God whose justice and goodness are not always logical to me.

Still, I can hardly force myself to accept a God who expects me to use my mind's reason to confirm that his Word is the Bible and expects me to believe in a insufferable contradiction in that Word. Isn't this how Christians argue against other religions? They point out their contradictions and absurdities and then maintain fearlessly that the religions can be dismissed because of them. Isn't this how everyone discerns truth and falsehood? A Christian won't believe in a bald contradiction until he's forced to in order to keep believing what he wants. The contradictions of any theological and philosophical system are just what anyone first looks for to judge whether the system is true. And no matter how much we're preached at about leaving God's business to God, we know instinctively that we shouldn't bother with any system that asks us to believe absurd, evil contradictions.

Obviously, minor contradictions might nag any system. It's the big ones, the fundamental ones, that cause us to disbelieve. The doctrine of election, for me, is just such a fundamental contradiction. It can't be called an apparent contradiction that will in some way eventually be resolved. If it's what Christianity steadfastly teaches, then this religion is false in my best and only judgement.

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33. Why Does Belief Continue?

WHY DO I STILL BELIEVE? The doctrine of election, folded into original sin, and then mixed with the absurdities of the Bible, surely clinches the case against Christianity. Why, I'm still asking, did I ever believe this creed in the first place? Did I sit down and weigh all the evidence, hold court in my mind, call witnesses and counter-witnesses, and then send out the jury that brought in the verdict? No. I just found myself believing, like an infant becoming conscious it's alive; it suddenly comprehends something that's been occurring for a long time. Something caused me to believe Christianity long ago. Somehow, it unconsciously made sense to me. I can list some possible causes now--personality, culture, family, church, effective advertising, peer pressure, maybe even a sound, logical argument or two, etc.--but knowing with certainty what caused me to be "born again" is lost in mysteries and riddles and guesswork and human ignorance and weakness.

At times, it seems I began to believe in Christ because some force outside me compelled me to believe. It seems, should I dare say this, that God showed me grace (assuming, of course, that Christianity is the truth; if Islam is the truth, then something evil has tragically misled me) by "electing" me. It appears that I didn't choose him. He seems to have chosen me (again assuming he's the true God). That thought has often appeared in the mists of doubt lately. If it had been left to me to choose him, would I have chosen him? It seems unlikely. Nothing in my past shows that I had enough goodness or wisdom or intelligence or knowledge or rationality to bring me to true, saving faith. God had to tackle me and hold me down to save me. When these thoughts come to me, the doctrine of election starts to make some sense--especially when other Christians testify to converting with the same feeling of something else's being in control.

The obstacle to this doctrine, however, is that there are millions upon millions of people just as wicked and just as spiritually and intellectually helpless as I am whom God grotesquely refuses to choose. If Christianity is true and I understand its ideas of morality and justice, it's immoral for God not to choose them, not to choose everyone. God's own revelation, if it is his revelation, testifies against such a God. If God alone is responsible for salvation, he is not good, because he's infinitely able to save and doesn't. I still haven't answered my first question, then. Why do I still believe? My only hope is that the great Christian thinkers and many, many Christians affirm an erroneous doctrine. All I do is shake my head and throw up my hands that I'm still clinging to this faith that makes less and less sense to me; I still don't know why I want to believe.

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34. The Motives Behind Believing

I STILL HAVEN'T FOUND OUT why I became a Christian. It's extremely difficult, as I've said several times before, to determine exactly what my motives were when I took communion at the Lutheran Church of my youth and then, that afternoon, looked at the New Testament I'd received as a confirmation gift with a feeling of faith bubbling inside me, a feeling of profound assurance that Christ was God's Son and died for me, a feeling of deep respect for the Christian religion. Was I merely childishly ignorant and pliable and credulous then? When I was fourteen and attending confirmation classes, I never knew of, considered, or weighed the evidence for any of the doctrines and ideas I've written about in this journal. I never tried to discover whether the Bible is the Word of God. I never thought it was necessary--I just unthinkingly accepted it. Why? The most cogent answer is that the people I trusted, the members of my family and church seemed to accept it. Questions about the historical Christ and his mission, about the resurrection and the incarnation, about the revelation and its authority, about the Holy Spirit and miracles, about other religions and philosophies, had never occurred to me. I believed what most everyone else in my life who had credibility seemed to believe--that we're all sinners (my understanding of sin was vague) and needed to be forgiven by God through Christ, in some mysterious way, before we die in order to keep from being cast into hell.

That I came to believe, and perhaps to believe incorrectly (if the Reformed Church has the best hold on the truth, my faith was partially incorrect) and without good reason, without ever asking the questions that sorely bother me now, is disturbing. Although I've made so many arguments against Christianity in this journal and feel prepared to disavow Christianity as the truth, I can't make myself disbelieve, as if I were an old woman who can't bring herself to invest the savings of a lifetime in a risky business venture. What troubles me most is that, just as I don't know why I converted, I don't know why I can't repudiate the faith I can't understand why I first believed or still believe.

I feel enslaved to my mind and soul. (Haven't I said the same thing about skepticism?) Some force I can't get a good look at, let alone gain control of, is leading me around on a short leash. Apparently, it's not enough to know--in my mind--that I shouldn't believe and don't want to believe. If I really want to forsake Christianity, I see now, I'm obliged to force myself to disbelieve, force myself to take a leap of faith against the Christian religion. (Why do I call it a "leap of faith" to disbelieve a creed that's, in my best judgement, untrue?)

The urge I feel to believe in Christ is so strong; it's like the urge to eat and drink. At the end of Reason Enough, Clark Pinnock says, "There is something irresistible about the image of God presented to us in the Christian message, God with a human face." I understand this; there is something irresistible, an urge unsatisfied by nothing other than faith. I can't suppress the urge without a courageous (or foolhardy, depending on one's opinion of the deed) exertion of the full strength of my will, as though I were an IRA prisoner defiantly and bravely choosing to starve himself to death in a Northern Irish prison to protest the policies of the British Government. I don't know whether I have strength and courage of this caliber.

Why can't I recant? What's holding me back from doing what I surmise (do I know it yet) is right? Why do I always feel compelled to believe that this religion, which seems so false, might be true? Why do I always think it at least deserves another chance to prove itself? What inside me, what experiences and mental proclivities, what intellectual habits and philosophical preferences, are controlling my mind and hence my decisions? Is God? Or are my own follies and weaknesses?

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